☆ Oceans away, emotionally / Running in place, lying awake
You say your past is gonna cut me / Yeah, I can take a little beating
You say you're such a mess / I like the mess you make
Think you're too hot-headed / You're not that hard to tame
When your puzzled heart's missin' a piece or two
That's good enough for me / I love what's left of you ☆
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Nolan held his breath, waiting for Patrick to turn him down. It had been a long day already and he had to get back to his boyfriend or some other excuse.
But then, “Okay.” And Nolan could breathe again. And Patrick was bantering back about Shakespeare. And… it was a good night. And he was determined to keep it that way.
Nolan led the way to his truck, letting Patrick place his guitar safely in the small back seat as he got the heat going. Patrick seemed just as surprised at Nolan’s invitation as Nolan was at himself. Yet the younger man didn’t seem to get the hint that it was all his doing. Nolan was not this brave or adventurous with anyone else. Patrick had given him another chance and he wanted to return the favor. He wanted to prove that he was worth it. That he wasn’t just some shut in that forgot about his friends the moment things got tough.
He got them on the road and Patrick lit up and rolled the window down just enough to flick out the ash. Nolan glanced over at him, his profile silhouetted against the backdrop of the city as the last remaining light of the day disappeared between the buildings, watched his mouth move…
He looked back at the road and realized he hadn’t head what he’d said. He watched him speak, but he couldn’t remember the words. They came to him slowly, like an echo. His mind mocking him for checking Patrick out when he wasn’t even meaning to, when he knew he shouldn’t be.
“Huh? Oh- Oh yeah. Well, I mean, Lizzy made me plenty of pancakes, but she always had to make them fancy. Sometimes I just want a good ol’ diner pancake with as much butter and syrup as I want,” Nolan finally said, feeling foolish. “And don’t worry about it. I can promise you I’ve had weirder nights,” he added with a small smirk, getting back on track.
He still wondered what Patrick’s boyfriend would think about him staying out. He felt like he was constantly worried for him and about him. But he had promised not to meddle. He had told himself he was fine with Patrick keeping him a secret.
He pulled into the parking lot. Only two other cars were parked there. Everyone must have been out on the town, leaving the place practically to themselves.
The young man found that funny. Weider nights, eh? Well if Patrick wasn’t the weirdest thing in the country boy’s life then he should count himself lucky. A little bit of ‘fuck up’ wiggle room just in case he said something stupid.
“We’re glutens for sweets.”
Force of habit had him checking his phone every so often and it was strange not to see Damian’s name on there for the first time on one of his secret Nolan outings. Again he found himself conflicted even though the man gave him explicit permission to pretty much to whatever the fuck he wanted to just shy of fucking someone else. Patrick’s mind wandered, even with the positive attitude lingering in the truck, if Damian was capable of doing that.
He reeled in his drunken thoughts as Nolan pulled up to the diner he barely remembered the name of... but he did remember the pancakes and how good they tasted when he was in that dark mood. Patrick finished his cigarette and zipped his jacket to block the chill.
“Ha,” he smiled, noticing the two cars. “Only people like us show up to diners this late.”
Patrick took the lead this time and led the way to the front door, speaking briefly with the waitress before they were guided to a table near the window. With full intention of buying his own meal, he knew he was craving bacon the moment his eyes landed on the glossy photo menu. Bacon, eggs and two pancakes.
“Drinking must give you the munchies,” he commented once the orders were taken and the coffee was poured. Having an appetite was already difficult on most days. “Did you manage to take up a new hobby yet now that you have all that space to yourself? Yoga, painting, square dancing?” He smirked over the steaming mug. “We gotta put on our schedule the next ‘this or that’.” Though now he wasn’t sure about the stargazing bit.
Nolan followed after Patrick into the diner and out of the growing chill. They sat at a table he was pretty sure they had occupied the last time they were here. Since the place was dead, it was easy to get their order placed quickly and get some coffee delivered to their table. Nolan stirred in his cream and sugar as Patrick spoke and a small smile tugged at his lips.
Patrick wasn’t giving him much time to reply. Nolan got the sense he was rushing toward further conversation. Trying to keep his mind off something, he guessed.
Nolan shook his head and licked his lips after taking a sip from the generic white mug. “I’ve been… sleeping a lot,” he confessed in a tone of voice that said it wasn’t exactly in a healthy way. “I can’t sleep at night for some reason, so I crash when I get home sometimes or sleep in way too late. I gotta kick that habit if I wanna take up any hobbies.” He grinned, trying to lighten his honesty with humor. “But I don’t think yoga or painting is where I’m gonna find enjoyment,” he added, taking another sip through his smile. “I could always go for more square dancin’, though.” He met Patrick’s eyes on accident as he said this and looked away.
The next this or that. Nolan had no idea. Patrick seemed uncertain about the stargazing. Perhaps Nolan should stop pressing the idea. They could always come back to it. Yet he hadn’t realized until Patrick brought it up how much he missed the open skies and how claustrophobic the city felt. Maybe he could get away for a day or two, just himself if Patrick wasn’t keen on the idea. He’d get a head full of fresh air and feel well enough to tackle anything when he returned.
He opened his mouth to ask Patrick how he truly felt about the stargazing trip since he’d been so wishy-washy about it, but he stopped short, feeling his phone buzz in his pocket. He pulled it out, expecting Lizzy or Charlotte, but it was that phone number with the area code he knew all too well. Calling this late? Why wouldn’t they just leave a message?
Nolan knew deep down who it was on the other end of the line, but he wouldn’t allow himself to think it. He wouldn’t let his mind wander or create ideas why they would be calling him. He couldn’t deal with that right now. Not when everything was so different. Not when he was still feeling so lost and trying to find his feet without his sister always there to prove to him he had some kind of purpose. Letting the past barge in on him felt dangerous right now…
He stared perhaps way too long at the screen before putting it in his coat pocket. “Sorry,” he mumbled. It buzzed two more times before going still. “What were we-?” At that moment their food was delivered to their table: steaming hot plates of pancakes and eggs and crisp bacon. Nolan willed himself to forget about the phone call just as he had been for the past few months. He would not let this food go to waste simply because his mental state raked away his appetite. He pulled it back with the help of the scent wafting off of the bacon and his mouth began to water.
“Y’know, I feel bad,” Nolan said, completely forgetting where his thoughts were previously. “Lizzy tried to teach me some basic things to cook for myself. Charlotte, too. And I’m not sure if I’m just that unsuited to the task or if I just never really gave it a decent shot because I took them feedin’ me for granted… But I have no idea how to really feed myself. How sad is that? Sure, I know every step of takin’ a wild animal and turning it into dinner, but I’ve never actually learned how to make more than a sandwich or-” he stabbed his meal, “scrambled eggs.”
He took a large bite, then remembered something halfway through chewing. “Mm,” he mumbled, holding up a finger. He reached into his empty pocket and pulled out a lone silver key on a keyring. “Here,” he said after swallowing hard. “The key to my place.” Nolan hoped Patrick had meant what he said about taking Nolan up on his offer. If not he was surely making himself out to be a fool. “Just for… when you need to get away. Be alone,” he reiterated from their earlier conversation in the school lot.
Sleeping was honestly a hobby of Patrick’s too as of late. He didn’t really blame him. Sometimes there was only so much energy that they could put out without completely falling apart... but he was happy that he was here, to share that energy.
At the mention of square dancing though, Patrick lifted his gaze only for it to meet Nolan’s. There was an awkward flutter in his chest that immediately dissipated the moment the other looked away. Had he just imagined that feeling? That subtle tug of attention that, admittingly, felt different than Damians.
His thoughts were disrupted by Nolan’s sudden gesture, pulling a buzzing phone from his jean packet. He stared at it for seconds longer than a normal person should have. Patrick wondered briefly if it could have been his sister but thought better of it due to the time. Whoever it was made an impact on the mood, Nolan becoming completely distracted.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. Then the food arrived.
At first Patrick didn’t move to consume his meal, instead drawn out of sheer concern for his friend as he in turn started rambling about- what fucking eggs? Cooking? Was the alcohol making his thought process a little harsh? Maybe he needed more of the coffee.
He pressed the mug to his lips to hold his tongue as Nolan held up a finger, remembering something. Patrick raised an eyebrow as Nolan held out a silver house key. He... honestly didn’t think the man was going to come through with that offer, not after the argument. Sure they made up and all but Patrick was... a nobody. Likely a footnote in the building manager’s life.
Forgetting all about his earlier annoyance, Patrick gingerly reached out, taking care not to brush Nolan’s hand as he took hold of the ring attached to the key. He really didn’t know what to say. A place that wasn’t his. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere safe. Somewhere where he wasn’t surrounded by reminders of what was and what are unchanging facts of his life.
Patrick was positive that Nolan had no idea how much this meant to him and fucker almost brought him to tears just thinking about it. Fuck... yeah, he may have still been a little buzzed.
So he grabbed a strip of bacon and shoved it in his mouth before grumbling a ‘thank you’ somewhere in between bites. He made sure this time he consumed the rest of the coffee and meal before speaking again. “I guess we can do the ‘driving out into the middle of nowhere’ and ‘stargazing’ thing. Can’t be next weekend, I promised a friend we’d meet but- you know, I’ll probably see you in between all that.” He paused. “And if you want to do something before then, my schedule is flexible.”
Patrick seemed surprised by the dangling key. Perhaps he really hadn’t expected Nolan to come through on the offer. Either way, he reached out wordlessly to take it from him. Nolan wasn’t quite sure what emotions he was seeing drift across Patrick’s face in those few short seconds, but it was plainly clear he wasn’t supposed to see anything because the younger man masked it with a huge bite of bacon and a mumbled thanks.
If it were anyone else, Nolan might have questioned his sincerity and wondered if he even planned on using it. But he liked to think he understood Patrick a little better than that by now. So he let the moment pass, taking the moment of hidden weakness for what it was, and listened to his distracted next bit of conversation.
Nolan eyed him over the rim of his mug as he took another long sip. He really couldn’t make up his mind about the stargazing. Nolan decided against bringing attention to that fact. He nodded. “Whatever works for you,” he said softly. “I’ve been meanin’ to move some furniture around. Go get some new stuff, too. I’ve got two empty rooms I need to fill now.” His voice was steady and he was proud of that fact. “It wouldn’t be particularly fun, but if you wanted another free meal out of it, you could swing by whenever. Help me make up a guest room.” Nolan supposed Patrick might want some kind of say in that, but he didn’t voice that aloud. He didn’t want to put it in his head that he suspected he’d be spending more nights at his house. If that was the case, he didn’t want him to have to sleep on the couch again. “Maybe an office in the other room, I don’t know,” he said, sounding defeated. “I ain’t good at this stuff,” he admitted.
Two empty rooms, huh? Patrick studied Nolan through the strands of hair, again surprised that the other was being so open- for the second time tonight- with generous invitations. He would have outright rejected the idea of being any kind of decent interior decorator had he not known what this really meant. He was lonely. They were lonely.
So despite his knowledge and confidence, he said, “Yeah, sure Nolan. I’ll take a crack at it.” And he smiled, hoping that would ease any awkwardness of imagining the two of them alone in a sizeable house talking about fucking curtains... or...
Whatever following thoughts he had about it, Patrick dismissed quickly, instead focusing on finishing the early breakfast and feeling a little more himself by the time he put down the empty coffee mug. There wasn’t much following discussion as they paid for their meal and piled back into the truck. Strangely, he was looking forward to sleeping and vaguely wondered about Damian at the apartment.
“Thanks for the invite,” he said, fighting off a yawn as they pulled up to the corner. “We should do this more often though after the days I get paid.” With one last parting smirk, Patrick stepped out, grabbing his guitar from the backseat.
He flipped his hair back as he checked the time on his phone, reading nearly one am. Damian should be home and asleep by now but he wondered if this evening’s excursion was going to blow out of proportion the next morning.
As suspected, the living room was dark and for the first time in a long time, he went straight to bed.
Nolan half expected Patrick to decline and he had braced himself for it, so when he agreed to tag along Nolan wondered what the hell he might have gotten himself into. He was no expert on this stuff. Perhaps Patrick was? Or perhaps not. Maybe this would all just be a mess from start to finish. Nolan decided that could be what made it fun. Taking chances.
“Sure thing,” Nolan replied, proud of himself for managing to keep up with the conversation this time and not straying away with his thoughts. He chuckled softly. “You know I always got you covered, even if you hate it.”
Once they had paid and it was time to get Patrick back home, Nolan was glad to catch himself before he started worrying about the boyfriend. It could have just been one really bad night for them. Who was he to say that it was a common thing that he locked Patrick out of the apartment?
Once should be enough, he fought with himself, but shook the thought away. He was protective of the people he cared about. It was hard when the people he cared about didn’t want him to protect them.
In what was becoming a familiar routine, Nolan dropped Patrick off at his corner and watched him make it safely to the door. The drive home was cool and he kept the windows down and smoked. He felt good. He and Patrick had made up. He had seen Patrick perform. They were getting somewhere with their friendship.
Nolan glanced at his place on the couch when he walked in the door. The place he would usually sit right after getting home. Instead, he slowly stripped off his clothes and climbed into bed. He swiped away the missed call notification on his phone before plugging it in to charge and turning over to sleep.
Cold fingers brushed across his face, waking him from the dreamless sleep. His eyes met Damian’s. A little glazed by mostly curious.
“You’re in bed,” he said.
Patrick wasn’t sure how to respond. Yeah, sure. I am. But the longer he thought about what to say, the more awkward it felt to be there in the first place. When did that happen? When did laying in bed with his boyfriend become simply about sex instead of general comfort? Did they really put that barrier up with each other? Did Damian make it-
Patrick shook his head, pushing away accusing thoughts as he sat up, pulling out of Damian’s touch. “Long night.”
The blonde sat up beside him, leaning his head against his knees. “You were out pretty late. Did you have fun?”
He narrowed his eyes, knowing full well by the tone that it was a trap. “Sure. You never texted me last night. Did you have fun?” Patrick shot back.
Damian smiled, seeming to enjoy the game of accusations. “Isn’t that part of the open relationship aspect? You are allowed to have fun, Pat. You don’t need to be the depressed emo kid you seem to want to be all the time.”
Patrick felt a small fire in his chest, hating the raw feelings that came associated with those words as he absentmindedly rubbed circles around the scars.
“Don’t worry though,” Damian continued. “I still claim you as mine when all is said and done. As I said the other day, the relationship needs to breathe but when I’m in the mood to take your breath away...” He twisted his finger in the collar of Patrick’s t-shirt and leaned in for a kiss.
He hated how slow Sunday’s seemed to drag, especially when Steven called for a late night rooftop chat. The conversation didn’t last as long and at least Patrick was able to blow off some steam with roof jumping exercises afterwards. Damian came home late and took his cigarettes.
Patrick found himself staring at the front of Nolan’s house Monday morning, looking awkward on the side of the street. He blew smoke rings from a new cigarette as he recalled the last time he was in the Building Manager’s house. The night he was locked out.
He flipped back his hair and pulled out the key, pleasantly surprised that it smelled clean. Patrick slowly rounded corners, not entirely confident in himself to trust the house was truly empty. He extinguished the butt into a cigarette tray and investigated every room. Empty.
He lingered in Nolan’s bedroom for a few seconds longer than he should have, analyzing the bed as if it was its own strange realm. How would it feel to be in someone else's sheets? To feel a different skin. To be somewhere else. Would he blink there too? Was it him?
Sighing deeply through his nose, Patrick moved back to the living room, kicking his boots off and settling in front of the TV. He didn’t have work but he had to be back before Damian noticed- or did he? He patted his jacket for the flask, assured that if he did spend the night out he wouldn’t need to go back to the apartment. He wondered, as he drifted to sleep, if Nolan would be interested in doing something spontaneous.
The weekend was over far too quickly for Nolan’s taste, but he was at least satisfied with its outcome. He’d had a good day with Patrick to prove their friendship was worth keeping and he had a long visit with his family the following day.
Everything had been smoothed over, just as Patrick assured him it would be if he only stopped worrying about everything. Charlotte admitted that the bake off hadn’t been the right time to talk, or even joke, about Nolan’s business. Nolan admitted that she had had a point, though. Lizzy shut them both up, saying something about how stressful things have been while putting some food in their faces to keep them from carrying on about it. That’s when he knew she had truly forgiven them.
Nolan kept mostly quiet about his friendship with Patrick, even when asked. He wasn’t sure where any of it was headed and it was too soon after making up to go foolishly tempting fate to jinx the matter. He knew Charlotte was curious not only because she was nosy, but also because she cared and Nolan hadn’t put himself out there in such a long time. But right now, he just wanted to keep this for himself.
Monday dragged on. By the time he got home he was ready for a drink and a long shower. When he stepped through the door, he almost didn’t notice the figure sleeping deeply on the couch. A box of cigarettes on the table. A flask. Boots haphazardly kicked off. It was one of these he nearly tripped on that caught Nolan’s attention first.
Patrick looked like he’d been asleep for a while and Nolan wondered why, even without school, he wasn’t getting enough sleep. He thought about waking him for a moment, then thought better of it, moving down the hall for the moment as he weighed the pros and cons. He hated that he had to include the wrath of someone he didn’t know- someone Patrick didn’t want him to know- into the equation. It was easy enough for Patrick to tell Nolan to let sleeping dogs lie. But Nolan wished he knew more about Patrick’s situation in moments like these.
Nolan decided to take that shower. He could pretend he hadn’t seen Patrick if he made the wrong decision to let him sleep. He scoffed at himself under the spray of water, knowing it was unlikely he’d lie, but the possibility gave him comfort.
After his shower, Nolan wrapped the towel around his waist. He’d grown accustomed to having the house to himself since the girls moved out and he felt foolish that it hadn’t crossed his mind to bring clothes into the bathroom with him in case Patrick was still there. The last thing he worried about was Patrick getting the wrong idea in his head. It was more about the scars that lined his back… He made the quick turn into his room feeling more exposed than if he was naked and walking backward.
He threw on something comfortable and came out to see whether his guest was still there, if he was awake, if he needed anything. Perhaps if Patrick was going to make this his getaway, Nolan needed to lay off being a host. Either way, he found himself back in the living room.
“Why aren’t you trying hard enough? Do you think happiness is just going to fall from the sky? Do you think someone is going to roll up in a pick-up truck and offer you a ride home every day from work?”
“Do you think anything comes that easy? That people are that nice anymore?”
“Everyone is selfish. Nothing good ever comes without a price. That’s why we work so well. I give you something to live for- to strive for. Goals keep you from feeling worthless, right?”
“Don’t you just feel alive?”
The sound of a shower turning on, startled him, Patrick grabbing a couch pillow defensively as he surveyed the dimly lit home. What time was it? He scrambled around him, pulling his cellphone from underneath his leg to see the time read 5:27pm. Nolan had just got off of work.
Patrick groaned audibly, running his hands over his face at his carelessness. He should have put on an alarm but... admittingly, he did feel a little better. He threw on the camera app on his phone, checking his hair to make sure he didn’t look like he’d been sleeping for six hours. He gathered his belongings, putting them in a neat pile near the end of his side of the couch and thought about starting a pot of coffee.
He hesitated, rocking on the balls of socked feet as he considered Nolan’s past words. He thought about the fight in the parking lot last week and reflected how Nolan may find it insulting if he tiptoed around this house like someone had died in here. No one was dead. Nothing was wrong between them. There were no expectations lingering here. But there should be, feels awkward to be so... unchained.
Patrick put on a pot, listening as the man moved in the slightly creaky bathtub. He prepared a couple cups, pulled out the sugar and cream for Nolan and poured a shot whiskey into the bottom of his own cup. He had just finished pouring when he heard the older man step out. He smiled softly, imagining how awkward this must be as he sipped from the mug.
A few minutes and Nolan appeared in the living room, looking over at the couch. Patrick cleared his throat, leaning across the kitchen island and twisting his fingers into the fabric of his sleeves. “Hey Southern Bell, how was work? Sorry I didn’t hear you come in.” He pushed Nolan’s mug closer to the other, an offering.
The couch was empty and at first Nolan thought Patrick had fled after all. He saw the boots at the end of the couch and heard Patrick clear his throat in the same moment and Nolan tried to ignore the feeling that washed over him. He couldn’t do it before he identified it as happiness and relief that his friend hadn’t left yet. He [i wanted] Patrick here. He wanted to share his space with him.
He let himself smile as he made his way over to the counter and sat at one of the bar stools, taking the mug. “Hey, thanks,” he said, taking the offering. Patrick even put out the sugar and cream for him and the smile didn’t leave his face as he mixed it in.
Southern Bell, again. Nolan wondered if he could get used to that. “How was work? Sorry I didn’t hear you come in.”
That simple question caught him a little off guard here in the comfort of his own home. Usually it was Charlotte or Lizzy who asked him that. The last time a man has asked him that in such a domesticated fashion was…
It was Nolan’s turn to clear his throat and he shrugged. “Oh, you know. Just another day of trying to make sure the old buildin’ doesn’t fall apart. And seriously, don’t worry about it. You looked like you needed the sleep, so I hope it was alright that I let you carry on.”
He brought the mug to his lips and took a sip while looking up at Patrick. He was so relieved to know that Patrick was really taking him up on his offer to stay here.
“I, uh… I hope you made yourself at home. If you ever get hungry or anythin’... I don’t got much, but what’s mine is yours.” He thought about it some. If Patrick was going to be catching up on sleep here, maybe they really should make up a guest bedroom for him. “That couch can’t be comfortable,” he ventured. “I’ll find a bed for the guest room first, just so you have a better place to sleep when you need to.”
He caught Patrick’s gaze again. He did look a little better. Nolan didn’t care if all he did was use his place to nap. He had a suspicion that if Patrick was allowed to get enough rest, his ambition and joy might follow. He just needed a place away from whatever it was that was bogging him down…
“Do you want to stay for dinner?” Nolan asked, trying not to sound worried Patrick might not eat at all if he didn’t offer. “Lizzy sent me home yesterday with way too much lasagna and I refuse to eat it three nights in a row.”
Patrick smiled as Nolan joined him in the kitchen, debating on whether he truly cared how the day went for the other or not. It was a... complicated feeling but he still made the effort to pay attention. He watched Nolan predictably make his coffee, briefly wondering why he didn’t just do himself. Because you’re not his boyfriend. You’re his friend.
He reiterated that a few times in his head before answering, “Yeah, dinner sounds fine and, to be honest, I don’t mind the couch.” He looked up through the strands of hair and smirked. “Don’t go rushing to spend money on that room, really. The living room is cozy.
“And hey, don’t let me feel too comfortable here. Next time I might bring my own groceries and write my name on everything then you’ll just be living in constant reminder of me.” Patrick took a long swig of the spiked coffee. “But speaking of me and you, how about we do something spontaneous? Can you call out of work for like... two days maybe?” His fingers drummed on the mug, hoping that the request wasn’t entirely out left field.
It somehow didn't surprise Nolan that Patrick preferred the couch. He didn't understand, but to be fair, he didn't understand a lot of what made Patrick Patrick. It was partially why he felt so intrigued by him. He was a wildcard. And Nolan felt like he could use a wildcard in his life. So he let it slide with a chuckle and nodded at his next warning. He probably shouldn't mention to Patrick that the reminder of his constant presence would be more of a comfort to him than he knew. He realized how pathetic and lonely that made him sound, so he took another sip of his coffee without adding anything.
“But speaking of me and you, how about we do something spontaneous? Can you call out of work for like... two days maybe?”
Talk about a wildcard.
Nolan blinked a few times, catching sighed of Patrick's fingers against the mug. Nervous? Or just habit? Nolan expected himself to feel worse about the idea the more he thought about it, but he was surprised to find that he had no hangups whatsoever about ditching work for a couple of days to hang out with Patrick. He pursed his lips and slowly nodded. "Yeah. I can make that happen," he said. "Am I gonna regret not asking what we're doin' first, though?" he asked, a small smirk coming to his face.
He wouldn't say it out loud to him, not yet anyway, but Patrick had really been showing his true colors lately. Sure, he still seemed afraid of letting his boyfriend know about Nolan, but he was also staying out later and... apparently wanting to take a few days away. Nolan tried to self reflect on how he might have been changing, too, but it was much harder for him to judge himself, it seemed.
Nolan slowly nodded, agreeing to his impromptu request for time off and Patrick grinned, almost feeling devious that he convinced a manager to skip out on work just because he asked. “Making me feel a little powerful since you’re the head hancho and all. Tsk, tsk, lying to your underlings.
“Second, how bad do you think I am that I’d plan something you didn’t want to do?” He drank the rest of his coffee, feeling a lot better already. “Let’s eat a slice of lasagna and then I can help you pack a few things for a couple nights of camping in the middle of fucking no where.” He held up a ringed finger quickly. “And I know that I’ve been back and forth on that request but we’re doing it. I’ve made up my mind.” Star gazing like a fucking couple. Yep, he was doing it and nothing was going to make him change his mind especially after a drink or two.
“You grab your clothes and I can grab blankets. I checked the weather earlier and we should be good with just the bed of the truck. Please tell me I’m not the only one excited here?” Patrick could feel his debonair side coming out. The way he used to be in high school when he was trying to get Damian to say yes to practically anything. He did say to have a little fun after all.
Nolan chuckled and raised his mug as if to toast Patrick's newfound power. "Don't let it go to your head," he joked before getting up to reheat the lasagna. "Help me pack?" he joked. "You think I need help packing an overnight bag?"
Nolan had to admit it: he was relieved that Patrick had caved about this. And excited.
They ate their meal while Patrick gave him a few specifics and by the end Nolan was laughing again. "No, you're not the only one. I could use a couple days away. I'll let the girls know in the mornin' so they don't worry."
He pushed away from the table and told Patrick where to find some of his good, heavy blankets while he went to his room to pack. It was such a shift in plans that it still hadn't really registered with him that this was happening. With no delay and no more back and forth from Patrick. Things were moving in a good direction, he thought. This friendship was solidifying itself.
"There's also some pillows in there," Nolan said, gesturing to the closet as he passed by Patrick in the hallway. “When are we leavin', oh master of plannin'?”
He loved how open Nolan was to the idea and followed the instructions on the locations of blankets and pillows after their dinner. He put them in a gym bag he found in the hall closet- minus the fact that he thought it was funny Nolan had one to begin with- and stuffed the pillows under his arm.
“Well, now. Obviously,” Patrick replied, slipping on his boots without tying them. Once the truck was opened, he packed the items in the back seat and grabbed his belongings from the living room, joining the older man in minutes in the passenger seat. He lit a cigarette and rolled down the window slightly.
“Alright country boy,” he gestured widely. “Drive to the middle of nowhere so we can see if stars still exist in Nevada.”
Patrick didn’t know what the evening had in store but once they were on the main highway out of the city, he began to relax, even managing to ignore the text on his phone. They watched the sun set as they drove, Patrick rocking out to whatever came on the alternative radio as Nolan watched amused. Eventually he did relax further with his pocket drink and Damian became a priority for another time.
Nolan pulled over at Patrick’s suggestion, taking the truck off the highway into a very small time town with dirt roads. They drove the lonely road for about ten minutes before they found a spot that looked fairly secluded from any passerbys, a dirt clearing with a wall of trees. The last thing he needed was a ticket from the county police for trespassing.
Patrick grinned, jumping out of the truck and arching his neck to stare at the slowly appearing stars. He was sure the later it became the more they’d see but- “I’d never seen them this bright.”
Nolan had expected a little more time to prepare himself, but he supposed this was how things were going to be with Patrick. He stamped down his panic and swallowed his need for plans. Patrick was in control. He was just going to drive.
So they packed up the truck and left and Nolan hoped he had chosen the right direction. Once they were out of the city, it seemed he had. He supposed he’d always find a way back to his roots somehow.
He let Patrick play whatever he wanted on the radio and let him relax. He drove as far as Patrick wanted them to, even passing up a few places he thought might be good spots. But the place they wound up was even better with a nice treeline protective them from the view of the road.
Nolan couldn’t help but laugh softly at Patrick’s awe. He climbed out after him and glanced up. There were stars here and there, but nothing compared to what would show up in another hour or so.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Nolan said, grinning over at Patrick. “Help me set up the bed of the truck while we wait so you can watch them all come out.” He tossed some blankets at him before unfolding some himself. His back might hate him for sleeping in the truck, but right now? He didn’t much care.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Patrick caught the blankets thrown his way, climbing into the back of the truck to help Nolan lay them out in a way he deemed would be most comfortable. He’d slept in cars before but never- he smirked to himself. Well, he’d taken plenty of naps in the back of this thing already but never an all nighter.
Once he’d finally placed the pillows, he perched himself on the wall of the pickup and worked on his drink, having half the mind to share with his companion and offered it to him as well. He noticed there was limited cell service once he balled up to check the text messages and was happy to see that Damian was minding his own business. He’ll feel bad about it later but for now, he was determined to enjoy his company.
Patrick maneuvered down to the bed and pulled up his smartphone, trying to focus it on the sky to have some kind of lasting memory. He was positive he wasn’t going to be doing anything like this again for a very long time. “Bet this is how every night looked where you grew up,” he said, snapping a picture and throwing it on his background.
He pulled back his bangs so that they cascaded over his head and studied the sky a little longer. Eventually his eyes wandered, not entirely confident if it was the buzz or the urge to see the other’s expression to their excursion, but when he began to study those features, Nolan steadily became more alluring. Was it the wild hair or the beard? Maybe it was the fact he was older and more mature or perhaps it was because he had helped him on more than one occasion.
Maybe it was the setting. The unnerving quiet of being out of the city or the way the moonlight deepened the shadows extenuating Nolan’s best features. Maybe it was-
Patrick’s lips met Nolan’s, cautious at first but a little more desperate when he kissed the second time. His pale fingers sprayed against the man’s chest, relishing the warmth and muscle. No, he didn’t care about the consequences.
Nolan climbed up into the back lying down and looking up and the darkening sky. He allowed the silence to settle over them while Patrick adjusted to this new experience, fidgeting with his phone and such.
“Bet this is how every night looked where you grew up,” Patrick said, finally settling down and taking a picture with his phone. Nolan's eyes returned to the sky, not replying at first.
Sure, they looked like this. And he might have been able to see it most nights if he wasn't so afraid to leave his room. Still, he supposed through the window was better than nothing and there were the occasional hunting trips when he could manage to keep his father in a good enough mood to enjoy it.
"Yeah," he said softly, not letting on to the turmoil underneath. He didn't want to ruin this for Patrick. He glanced over at his company, his bangs pushed out of his face so that he could enjoy the night fully. Nolan decided he would follow his example. So he settled into the pillows further and directed his gaze up to the heavens, taking in what he could barely appreciate as a child.
After a minute or two he felt Patrick's eyes on him. He wasn't sure how long he had been looking. Nolan turned his head, ready to ask "what?", but the word wasn't even halfway out of his mouth before Patrick's lips were on his. He didn't even see him lean over, didn't even expect-
Nolan blinked slowly after the first, gentle kiss, looking between Patrick's eyes. His heart began to pound, catching up with the events. When Patrick closed the distance again, he knew he should have pulled away, but he didn't. Couldn't. He'd been wanting to taste these lips for days. Weeks, even. He just couldn't admit it.
His hand covered Patrick's over his chest as he began to kiss back, closing his eyes, the touch hopefully assuring him that this was just as wanted. Craved.
He also didn't want to frighten Patrick by being too needy or pushing too many boundaries, so he let him stay in control, leaning over him, manipulating the kisses. And god, he tasted good. Like cigarettes and alcohol and spontaneity.
There was no resistance and Patrick wondered how long Nolan wanted to kiss him as it seemed spontaneous to himself. Sure, he’d found the older man handsome in a rugged sort of way but he had a-
He scrunched his brow, pushing away the moment ruining thought in order to stay in the moment of their make-out session. Nolan’s touch was reassuring and Patrick continued to push through with his tongue, expertly twisting in as if he often tied cherries. Nolan tasted like cigarettes and cautiousness... and that made Patrick chuckle a bit.
He pulled back, his hair falling over to obscure his eyes. “Come on, sit up,” he said, tugging Nolan by the shirt to lean back against the truck. Once Nolan had maneuvered himself, Patrick moved over him, one leg on either side. He reached a hand up, bringing Nolan’s face closer to resume their kisses, Patrick subconsciously leaning in closer with every passing second. It felt... so nice to be somewhere else if only for a night.
Patrick was too good at this and yet eager, like he didn't often get the chance to play this role. Nolan was all too happy to hand over the reins, feeling out of practice and frankly a little worried the tables might turn if he took too much initiative.
Patrick pulled back and Nolan felt a little drunk. It had been so long since he felt the rush of adrenaline caused by kissing someone you cared about- and found extremely attractive.
He couldn't help but grin a little stupidly and do as Patrick told him to, sitting up and leaning against the back of the cab. He liked the way Patrick grabbed his shirt to direct him. He liked the way Patrick took control and didn't let him fret too much internally. He wasn't given the time to. Patrick was in his lap. A long-fingered hand pulled his face closer and they continued their kissing and Nolan felt as high as the the stars above them. His hands, shaking a little, found Patrick's hips and settled there. Of course he wanted to do more exploring, he couldn't lie to himself anymore. But he wasn't about to go burning bridges. There was a chance this was a once in a lifetime deal. Patrick might decide this was a bad idea. And Nolan wasn't going to be anyone's second choice…
He decided to enjoy this while the future was still open to him and he squeezed Patrick's hips gently, encouraging him.
Nolan’s hands rested on his hips and squeezed and Patrick couldn’t help the sudden need to be closer overwhelm him. Everything about this felt different from Damian and he was almost starved for this new experience.
Maybe he did have a little liquid encouragement in his system because, despite his earlier reservations on the thought, he found his fingers snaking under Nolan’s jacket to caress the muscle, embrace the warmth and found his own jacket was far too thick. He pulled back slightly, slipping off the leather before diving back in to continue the assault on Nolan’s mouth and intimate touches under his clothes.
Patrick was grateful those eyes were closed. He was afraid at some point he would start to feel guilty. Start to feel wrong in some way that maybe making himself happy was a terrible notion. They’d only known each other for almost two months and they hardly knew anything about their inner lives. Please. Just let it stay that way.
Nolan hummed softly at the soft touches thay worked their way up under his jacket and shirt. Something was telling him there was a line being crossed here. Patrick was asking for more and Nolan... well Nolan wanted to give it, but he was already betraying himself enough as it was.
He felt Patrick take off his jacket, hoping if he kept his eyes clothed, things could just stay like this and reality didn't have to come crashing down on them. Patrick returned to his mouth, cold hands making him jump slightly as they slipped back under.
If he didn't do something quick, Nolan was going to be swept away, forgetting any reason he had for not going through with this. So he mustered every ounce of willpower and brought his hands up to Patrick's sides, pushing him back just slightly. Only enough to convince him to pause with his kisses.
"Pat-Patrick," Nolan panted, chest heaving. This wasn't a great start, looking so needy. "I... you know I want this..." His heavy lidded eyes met Patrick's, trying to prove his honesty. "But... I can't. If we continued... I'd want more from you. Somethin' I'm not sure you're willin' to give." He found it strange how Patrick was eager to hand over his body, but not his heart tonight. But perhaps that's why they needed to have this talk.
And now he'd wait to find out if Patrick wanted him as a quick screw or... something more.
Patrick was pushed back and that brought him down to the cold reality of their situations. Of course not, Nolan wasn’t going to let him continue even though they were still close enough to smell each other’s breath.
Nolan met his gaze and, even through the other’s own desire, he managed to keep his eyes honest. He’d want more from me. How would Patrick feel about that? Wasn’t that where they were headed? Or did he mean a different ‘more’?
And he muddled about that, knowing full well where Nolan was trying to drive this conversation. “Can’t we just have this?” he asked slowly, trying to keep any hurt from spilling out. The last thing he needed was to break down over the last few weeks. Over the cold bathroom floor or ruffled bed sheets he rarely slept in. He wanted his heightened emotions directed elsewhere until they were instructed to shut down at the end of the night.
But he knew a boundary when he saw one. “But if you insist, we can just pretend it didn’t happen, okay? It’s fine, I’ll back off.” It’s fine. It’s fine. Everything will be fine.
Patrick's voice sounded so small and fragile and Nolan hated that he had to break the magic of the moment. But he also knew he was worth more than one night. And Patrick was, too.
Nolan shook his head at Patrick who was saying perhaps they should just pretend nothing happened. He reached up with one hand to move the bangs from his face like he had wanted to do so many times before.
"I don't want to forget," he said softly. "If this is all I can ever have of you, then please, let me remember it. I just..." he sighed heavily, eyeing Patrick's lips, hoping he hadn't tasted the last of them. “It wouldn't be fair to continue. To anyone involved. Not unless you start making some hard choices. For your happiness. *Yours.* That's it. That's all I wanted to say...”
He blinked, looking down at where Patrick still sat in his lap. Honestly, he didn't care if he was a part of the equation, as long as Patrick figured out that he needed to live for himself and that relationships were like teamwork, not leaches.
Patrick sighed, fine, no forgetting but he wasn’t going to have Nolan talk to him like he knew what was going on. He didn’t and that was entirely his own fault for never talking about Damian. And the single thought of his boyfriend brought his mood down, pulling himself back out of Nolan’s lap because now it was far from appropriate.
He reached over for his discarded jacket and shimmied out his pack of cigarettes, lighting one up as he pondered his following words. The more he thought about it, the more he deemed it unfair to involve the older man, much less Patrick enjoy himself for one fucking moment.
“Damian doesn’t care what I’m doing or who I’m with right now,” he said, looking out at the treeline instead of those off limits lips. “He wanted to be in an open relationship to let our own issues ‘breathe’.” He air quoted. “There are no hard choices to make here, I’m just living happily within the limits. Sorry I didn’t tell you that before I kissed you.” Asshole.
Patrick took a long drag from his cigarette, bringing his knees up. “So hey, now I know you’re a traditionalist. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”
A new mental rule built somewhere that in order to have any fun with Nolan, he’d have to either be single or broken up with Damian and the mere thought of breaking Damian’s heart almost seemed like the worst option. He loved him. He did... at some point. He wasn’t sure what they were now but he was trying his best to salvage what they had. Nolan... wasn’t going to be ‘that guy’, not even for him. Maybe he’d take a personal weekend to himself, get that fucking urge out of his system.
You’re drunk thinking again. That’s called cheating. Though he wondered if Damian was doing the same thing.
Patrick climbed off and Nolan knew it was for the best. He just wished he wasn't completely shutting down while he did it. Patrick had a way about him where he clearly struggled facing the things that hurt him, so much so that he lashed out.
And it was obvious that Damian was hurting him, even if it wasn't apparent to Patrick. Damian might not care what Patrick was up to, but the way he said those words, it was clear that he wanted him to. It was clear he cared what Damian was up to. And anyone who was actually living happily didn't have to try to prove it, Nolan knew all too well. The way he nearly spat the word "happily" was telling enough.
Nolan let the silence drag on after Patrick's defensive speech, partially to gather his thoughts, partially to let Patrick think on things himself. He looked up at the night sky. The starts were on full display now. He could see the milky way.
He was hurt, he had to admit it to himself. And it wasn't the fact that Patrick wasn't going to choose him. Not really. They hadn't known each other long enough for that to hurt this much. It was the casual way Patrick and his boyfriend seemed to play with each other's feelings. And while it didn't seem like Patrick enjoyed it, and he knew from watching his sister's relationship fall apart how hard it had to be to watch someone change before your eyes-
He stopped his thought process. This was all speculation. What he was really hurt about was Patrick's disregard for his... what was it? "Traditionalism."
It wasn't until this moment that Nolan realized how painful it had been even putting himself out there. It was like ripping off a years-old band-aid, tearing off skin and leaving him raw, doing more harm than good.
He'd been engaged. He'd worked his ass off to make things work. And death took love away from him all the same. How could he have even thought, for one second, that he would have a second shot? If not with Patrick, then anyone else? Too much had changed. He didn't know how to do this anymore. Would anyone he tried to be with want an open relationship the moment things got hard? Did Patrick suddenly not want him because he had the audacity to want to be exclusive?
"Can I ask you somethin'?" He heard himself say, voice soft and nonjudgemental. "Do you *want* to be in an open relationship?" He asked. "Forget me, forget everythin' that's happened. Do you *want* him to care that you're here?"
Nolan didn't mention what he he'd witnessed: How Patrick seemed dead on his feet until they started hanging out or how Damian never seemed to show interest in his interests. How tossing your boyfriend out on the streets wasn't exactly a healthy coping mechanism. He didn't need to, nor did he want it to seem like an attack. He just simply wanted to hear Patrick's answer.
Patrick looked at Nolan this time when he asked his questions and scoffed. “No, of course I don’t want to be,” he replied without really considering his own mental privacy on the subject. Fuck it. If Nolan wanted to talk about a person that he didn’t want in between their relationship then fine. Here they fucking were, ruining a great night by talking about things that made him want to feel a release. “Doesn’t ‘open relationship’ translate to ‘not happy’? Wouldn’t that make you feel like you weren’t good enough? Like your efforts every fucking day were being minimized to just simple words that at the end of the day don’t mean a god-damn thing.”
It felt strange to say it outloud. Those thoughts were exclusive to himself and talking to someone felt wrong like he should feel guilty for thinking ill about someone he was supposed to trust and love and- then he thought about those hands and really wished he wasn’t being asked these questions when he’d been drinking. This was not the place or time to let his mouth run. They barely knew each other.
“Look, I’m sorry I kissed you. I like you Nolan but things are just more complicated than I can explain. Do I want him to care though?” He shook his head. “Not really.” It wouldn’t end well if he did care more. Let it go. Don’t ask me anymore or I’m going to fucking loose it. Patrick took a long drag from his cigarette using it as a distraction as his knee began to bounce. He shouldn’t have kissed the man. Everything would have been just fine if he’d been... smarter.
After this new outburst, Nolan wanted to ask Patrick why he stayed? But he knew it wasn't that simple. It wasn't that simple with Charlotte and it wouldn't be that simple with Patrick, even if he got the feeling their situations were rather different.
He could also tell that Patrick was reaching him limit and while Nolan sometimes knew it was beneficial to challenge someone, now might not be the best time for it. Not when they had several hours to drive back in awkwardness.
So he nodded, trying not to take his words about not feeling good enough personally. How did Patrick think this entire situation made him feel?
Still... Nolan thought Patrick could explain. He just didn't want to. It made him uncomfortable.
"You could explain it all to me sometime. Get it off your chest," he offered. "I can't meet you on ground I can't see.
"And in return I could... tell you a bit about myself I don't like talkin' about. Somethin' that might make some things about all this," he gestures to the night air, hinting at how he'd ruined their fun, “make sense.”
He hadn't really thought about telling Patrick. Or anyone in this new place for that matter. It felt like a sacred secret. But he was learning quickly that sometimes the present, and the people in it. We're more important than the past.
“You could explain it all to me sometime. Get it off your chest. I can’t meet you on ground I can’t see.”
That made Patrick feel terrible, selfish, cowardly. Nolan was... so much more than he could ask for. He was different from Damian, different from Steven. He wasn’t trying to compete. He wasn’t trying to turn the conversation in a direction that made him look like the bad guy and when he offered to share something about himself, Patrick wanted to put up a wall defensively.
Did he really want to be closer? He liked Nolan’s company. He liked that all the memories they shared were mostly good ones. He didn’t want to convolute it with Damian’s harsh judgements or his own personal turmoil. He liked helping Nolan and if they could distract a little longer…
“Yeah, okay,” Patrick muttered. “But I don’t know if we need more,” he gestured like Nolan did, “Negative vibes in the air but I want to know if it’s important to you. If you need to tell someone, I am always here to listen. I’ve told you that before.” And there he was, feeling like a hypocrite again.
Nolan looked down at his lap. He wished smoking would help, but frankly he just felt like the fresh night air was all he needed.
"Patrick. You're never gonna be able to avoid tough conversations or negativity completely. It's how you participate in those conversations that leaves you feeling drained. Conversations like this can be extremely bonding." He glanced up at Patrick, hoping he wouldn't take that the wrong way.
"And I don't need to tell anyone," he said calmly. “It's choosing who in my life I let see parts of me, because I want them to. Because I respect them and I want them to respect and understand me in return.”
He reached up, moving Patrick's bangs out of his face, only for a moment. "I don't do any of this halfway. I- I've learned that it's too easy to regret." He dropped his hand, averting his gaze. “So if you decide you want to open up, then you'll have it all out of me, too.”
Patrick listened to Nolan, resuming his smoking as he reflected on what exactly Nolan was looking for in an answer anyway and it nearly startled him when his bangs were pushed back again. A trade. He wasn’t taking the bait to go first and divert the situation. He was too smart for that. He fumed for a few seconds more, leaning forward against his elbows and deciding that if he was going to say anything with his heavy tongue, he’d probably do it with his eyes closed.
So Patrick took one last drink from his pocket flask, closed his eyes and said, “Well I’ve been in a dark place and that dark place always seems the worse when I’m home. I phase out of my life so often when I’m not hanging with you that it feels like I’m... ‘blinking’ it away to get to our next smoke break. I-” He paused. “I... have been doing things to help that I’m afraid they really aren’t.” He shrugged, “But that’s how we coped. That’s what we always did and I’ve known the guy since we were kids. I can’t just...”
He was really at a loss. He wasn’t happy. He hadn’t been happy in a long time and he supposed it was when things changed in Damian’s life that he was always dragged down with him. “I can only keep myself above water before I just drown some nights. And lately...” It’s every night I’m there. He was trapped and Patrick knew full well he wasn’t painting a clear picture. His boyfriend wasn’t at fault. It was the world and how it screwed them both over. “It’s not his fault.”
Patrick opened his eyes, blinking back the moisture that was threatening to betray him. “There’s... there’s my ground.”
Nolan listened, patient with the puzzle pieces he was offered. It wasn't much, but it was enough. He was just glad Patrick was talking. And now he understood why it wasn't so easy to leave his boyfriend. With so much history and pain linking them together…
Patrick's description of keeping himself from drowning, all because he was trying to be there for Damian, sounded familiar. "It's not his fault," sounded familiar, too.
The difference was Brady wanted to change. And he did. He worked hard at it. Nolan didn't know enough about Damian to say the same.
"What I know is you can only help someone as much as they want to be helped," Nolan said after a long moment of silence. "It may not be our fault, you know, what we've gone through in life. But it is our job to recognize how we affect the people around us because of it. It's our fault if we never try to fight those demons.
“I'm glad our time together has been able to help you slow down. But you shouldn't have to be 'blinking' at all. That's it. That's all I'm gonna say about the matter. And you can take it or leave it and I'll respect you all the same.”
Nolan rummaged around in the nearby pack for a bottle of water they had packed. He took a long sip, his throat dry from the subject matter and the prospect of telling some of his story.
He screwed the cap back on and sighed softly. “I guess it's my turn.”
He hated how cowardly he was. He hated how unclear he made his words, that he wasn’t sure how to ask for help properly and Nolan didn’t pick up on the subtle hint. Patrick felt like he was on a different plane sometimes in the dark space and that left him almost wishing he’d said something more in that vague confession.
He shouldn’t have expected it but the man did provide a very obvious piece of advice. Damian... was something else especially when he was drunk but now was not the time to explain that to Nolan who hinted at letting him in on his own secret.
“Shouldn’t be ‘blinking’ but here we are,” Patrick chuckled awkwardly, playing it off and rubbing his sleeves into the raw skin. He watched Nolan fiddle with a bottle of water, pausing just enough to make Patrick wave a hand out for him to begin. “Don’t leave me hanging with my relationship issues. Go on, speak a truth and I’ll let you off the next embarrassing this or that.” Maybe if he didn’t make it a big deal he wouldn’t be as hesitant to admit it.
Nolan caught the movement from the corner of his eye, but he didn’t press the matter. If Patrick needed to talk about something, he needed to learn that Nolan was there for him. That he was safe. Nolan couldn’t go asking him about things he wasn’t sure of when things were so delicate. Nothing good ever came from begging someone to trust you.
And now Nolan had to trust Patrick. Maybe then he would open up in return. Or… he could lose everything. He swallowed some more water, stalling. He knew he was thinking in absolutes. If anything, he would simply know he had someone to talk to and Patrick would understand why he was a little too sensitive for one night stands.
Patrick prompted him and he tried to laugh softly at the conversational ice breaker. But he really wasn’t sure how to ease into it. He hadn’t exactly been planning to open up about all this tonight. He thought it would have taken Patrick a little more time to tell him even the small amount he had. Perhaps, since Patrick hadn’t given him everything, he didn’t have to give everything, either? And yet… he knew that wasn’t how he did things.
But what if this wasn’t something Patrick wanted to hear? What if things got even more awkward and they had to drive back to town in silence? He took a deep breath, finding his courage.
“I, uh…” he started, clearing his throat. Just say it. “I was engaged. ‘Bout six years ago.” That didn’t seem so hard now that it was out, but he was avoiding Patrick’s eyes and he had a lot more to say. “We were together for a long time before gettin’ engaged.” He tried not to trip over his words as he so often did. This was harder than he thought. He couldn’t remember the last time he told this story out loud. He adjusted his position and scratched his neck, a little uncomfortable. There was never any way to predict how someone was going to react when you told them your fiance died. Putting that on top of an already unpredictable Patrick, who he very much wanted to be with…
“He was an alcoholic, but we worked through it. There were a lot of ups and downs because… well it’s not just somethin’ you can cure, you know?” He’d seen Patrick’s drinking. He knew he would probably understand, but he didn’t make it feel targeted in that sense. Yet something in him wanted Patrick to know that things weren’t always perfect.
“Then he got cancer. And I… I uh-” Nolan swallowed hard. The wound wasn’t deep anymore, but saying the words was still hard sometimes. “I had to watch him wither away and die, right in front of me. I never thought I’d feel interested in anyone ever again. And if I did, well, I knew I couldn’t settle.”
He finally raised his eyes to meet Patrick’s, hoping his honesty would shine through. “That’s why I’d love to go further with you, but I can’t. Call me old fashioned or… traditionalist or whatever,” he gave a small grin. “But it’s precisely because I want you in every single way that I won’t allow myself to have you in only one. Because I’ve only felt like this once before. And he told me that if I ever felt it again, I shouldn’t feel guilty. And I think I did at first,” his words were coming fast now. He knew he should stop, but he couldn’t. “I didn’t want to admit my feelin’s for you. Because you were off limits and frankly… you scare me sometimes,” he added, chuckling through his words. “But then tonight happened and…” He shook his head, looking away, his hair creating a curtain between them. He felt a little like Patrick, using that to his advantage. “I just hope it doesn’t change anythin'. Because I still want to enjoy your company. But you also deserve to know why I can’t just…” he gestured before them, “on a whim.
“I’m too afraid of losin’ and that’s on me.”
Patrick... didn’t really know what he was expecting but as Nolan told his story about the man he loved and the tragedy of that love, he started to feel a little weary about his earlier decision to try and coax an older man he knew little of into sex. He also felt guilty about his own habits he was dragging. Of course Nolan didn’t want a one night stand with him. Of course Nolan’s fiance had had a drinking problem. Of course Nolan didn’t feel comfortable dating anyone when any moment happiness could be taken away.
It really made certain reactions make sense now. The hesitation on their first night at the bar, the understanding kindness when he was locked out and drunk, the depression that followed being alone in a house by himself after his sister and niece moved out. Patrick had been selfish. Nolan was worth more than a single night.
What he didn’t expect was- “But it’s precisely because I want you in every single way that I won’t allow myself to have you in only one. Because I’ve only felt like this once before.”
Patrick felt his mouth go dry, wondering instantly how long he had been leading Nolan on for it to get this far.
“I didn’t want to admit my feelin’s for you. Because you were off limits and frankly… you scare me sometimes,” he chuckled. “But then tonight happened and…” Nolan hid behind his hair, continuing softly explaining that he couldn’t just fuck on a whim and hoped nothing would change between them.
Patrick snapped the cigarette between his fingers, the embers extinguishing across his jeans. What the fuck just happened? He was glad he wasn’t sober. He couldn’t imagine how panicked he truly would have been had Nolan told him any other time. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what he should say. Thank you? I like you too but Damian is my boyfriend? No, you’re right, I’m not happy how ‘bout I dump my boyfriend of almost twelve years and you can date my alcoholic depressed ass instead?
He couldn’t lie to himself. He liked Nolan too but he couldn’t imagine giving all of himself to another person when Damian seemed to suck the life out of him every day. What was there left to give?
“I...” He crushed the remaining parts of the cigarette in his hand. “Don’t know what to say.” He shook his head. “No, Nolan. You don’t want to be with me. I’m not a healthy person and frankly you deserve better. You have some much kindness and fucking experience. You could find someone smarter, more successful. I want to help you find that person but that person is not me.”
He was making this sound too much like a hard rejection but he didn’t want to think about his answers. Nolan deserved honesty. “I feel something for you too, Nolan, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have kissed you if I didn’t find you fucking charming and... different. But I just can’t-” There was no way he could leave Damian.
Nolan wasn't expecting anything from Patrick and the fact that Patrick thought he was asking something of him made him realize he must have come about this all wrong. He had been with Brady just as long as Patrick had been with Damian before their engagement and his death. He knew how long with someone could bind you together.
Still, Patrick's reasons for Nolan to not want to be with him were childish and frankly a little insulting. It was like Patrick was giving him advice he himself couldn't take. And besides, Nolan didn't see him as any of those things. Sure, he was a little difficult at times, but who wasn't? Patrick was creative and giving and... Nolan shouldn't go down that road. Listing the attributes he admired about someone he couldn't have probably wasn't the best move for his mental state.
"I ain't askin' you to leave anybody or do anythin'," he said. “I just... wanted you to know why tonight didn't work out. And to yell you a little more about me.”
He shifted, looking back at Patrick. "Don't sell yourself short, Patrick." Dammit. He promised he wouldn't do this. "There's a lot to admire about you. And there's a lot more to life than just... success or experience or...," he gave a half shrug. "Please don't let anyone make you feel less than..." he searched for the right words. "Than how you felt on that stage. Meant to be seen. Meant to be heard."
Patrick leaned against his knees and nodded to Nolan’s words, feeling like he was between a rock and hard place. Don’t sell yourself short... That first show meant the world to him but he knew in the retrospect of things that it was just a moment to enjoy and nothing more.
“Thanks for sharing with me,” he muttered, the evening taking a turn he didn’t exactly imagine. He took a breath and looked up at the stars again, feeling a little lonelier than he did at the beginning of the day with Damian in that bed.
“So, uh, if you don’t want to sleep in the back of the truck, we should probably find a motel or something. It’s a little late to be driving back as far as we have this evening.” Patrick forced a smile, hoping to smooth things back over. There was no way Nolan was going to opt for the bed of the truck after that discussion.
Nolan knew he'd ruined things. Patrick had been so excited about this spur of the moment trip to see the stars and Nolan has squashed his enthusiasm. His next words stabbed even harder than thay realization.
Nolan shook his head. "You came here to see stars," he said. "And we're miled from any motel." He climbed out of the bed of the truck, rounding to the cab. “I'll sleep inside.”
He pulled the door open, trying not to curse himself. Patrick wasn't open enough. He was too open. Where was the happy medium? He pulled his jacket tight around himself and sunk down in the seat.
It had been a long time since he slept in the truck, but he had done it many times. He could do it again. He swallowed hard, feeling the emptiness heavy around him.
Nolan voted against leaving, claiming they were too far out and really Patrick didn’t have the energy to argue otherwise. Before he could even mutter a goodnight, the older man was climbing out of the bed and into the truck without another word.
Patrick sighed as laid back down, letting his mind settle on... well, the things he had to consider between the two men. Nolan was right. He had to make decisions for all parties to be happy but... it felt like trudging through molasses. What was the right decision? What should he be prioritizing? He needed to be alone. Perhaps having two days alone with Nolan wasn’t a considerate idea but...
He did like being underneath the stars.
He shivered, bracing himself in the morning gloom. As exciting as it was not to wake up in his apartment, he didn’t feel enthralled to be awake either. Patrick groaned as he pushed himself up and stretched, pulling on his jacket and fluffing his hair.
After a couple of minutes, he began to gather up the blankets and pillows, knocking on the window glass before opening the back door to pile them in. “Wasn’t my brightest idea for sleeping situations,” he started, sliding into the passenger side. “If you want to get breakfast we can but,” he shrugged. “Up to you if you still want to hang out.”
Nolan didn't get much sleep that night and it wasn't due to the seating arrangement, though that was part of it. He had spent many nights sleeping in this truck when he was younger, but he wasn't a kid anymore and his back began to ache even with the seat reclined. His sleeplessness was mostly caused by his active mind.
A part of him regretted turning Patrick down. Life was meant to be lived fully, was it not? Patrick seemed to think so. Then why couldn't he just embrace the moment and enjoy the night with him?
Because you'll never stop thinking about it, he reminded himself, getting out of the truck to piss in the dark morning air. He left the door open so he didn't wake Patrick in the back.
He knew if he had slept with Patrick he would only crave more. Hell, he'd been left with only his kisses and it was hard enough to let it go. It was better this way. Now he would never know what is was like to hold him in that way and therefore he would never know what he was missing.
He also regretted sharing so much with him. No one ever knew what to do with him after they found out about Brady. He wasn't looking forward to the change in behavior, not just because Patrick knew how he felt now, but because he knew what he'd lost.
He made it back to the truck and climbed back in, closing the door softly. He watched the sun start to peak over the horizon and a fog slowly took over the field around them, mocking his mood. He felt himself slip into that place where he saw nothing. Felt nothing. He was back home staring at the blank television.
Then he heard the knock on the back door window and he he sat up, shaking himself out of it and unlocking the doors so Patrick could pile their things inside. Nolan rubbed at an eye as Patrick sat in the passenger seat, putting it all on him if he still wanted to continue their outing. For once, Nolan hated that. He was great at calling the shots in a crisis, but sometimes he just wanted someone else to take the wheel.
He sighed, feeling his stomach rumble despite himself and the diner where they had slowly gotten to know more about each other. He knew if he told Patrick now, in this fragile moment, that he was done for the day, it would come off like he regretted every moment. He wanted to hold onto what they had. Was that selfish of him?
So he nodded and put the truck in drive. "I could use some breakfast," he said and got them back onto the road. He stopped for gas, enjoying the moment of solitude outside the cab of the truck. Then it was back into the city and to what was becoming their usual place, this time at a more normal hour for breakfast.
Patrick’s eyes studied Nolan, looking for signs of regret or discontent for the last few hours but as hard as he tried finding some excuse on that man’s face, he couldn’t. There was a sort of indifference maybe but he wasn’t entirely sure if that was due to lack of sleep or the situation.
He turned to the window and watched cars and landscapes fly by. He had to fix this. This was his fault and while he was glad they aired out some laundry, Patrick had to respect Nolan’s reasons especially after he confided about Brady. Guess that crossed a few of his items off the ‘this or that’ list.
It took them about an hour to reach the city again and then another twenty minutes to pull into the diner that was becoming their ‘usual spot’. He stomped out the cigarette he started mid-ride and followed the other into the busy restaurant. It was quite a difference from midnight and that prickled him a bit.
The pair were seated in a place further from the entrance and this time Patrick didn’t even have to look at the menu. He glanced across the table after the coffee was served and forced himself to be the bigger man. “Hey, thanks for telling me about Brady last night. It really explains a lot about you.” It felt like it needed to be said. It couldn’t have been easy talking about the death of someone you loved. “Also, it so happens that crossed a couple things off our list so I have a new ‘this or that’ if you’re still interested.”
Patrick smiled reassuringly, hoping that sentiment was enough to make things feel like they were going back to normal.
When they sat down Nolan decided he might feel a little better after some coffee. Perhaps breakfast was a good idea after all. They settled into the booth and ordered fairly quickly. It was mostly silence as Nolan stirred in his cream and sugar, trying to get himself to speak. But there seemed to be a lump in his throat.
Patrick spoke first. Nolan wasn't sure whether to be surprised by that or not. He looked up at him from under his lashes, still stirring his coffee despite it being completely mixed.
Something about hearing Brady's name come out of Patrick's mouth made him feel ill. He knew it shouldn't. It was an old defense brought back to the surface, triggered by the night before. He took a sip from his mug, washing the lump in his throat down. He had told Patrick about it, so he was allowed to bring it up. That's how these things worked, he reminded himself.
Still, it never felt great knowing you had just caused someone to start tiptoeing around you. It was difficult. He didn't want Patrick to baby him. He didn't want him to start thinking of him as the too-sensitive man with a dead fiance. But he also didn't want to be put in situations that would make things worse, either.
Nolan clenched his jaw a couple times. Trying not to let it get to him. The worst thing he could do now was look sensitive about being treated with sensitivity. He'd only prove the opposite point.
So he nodded and gestured for Patrick to continue. "We'll, let's hear it then," he said, trying to sound like himself.
Patrick noted the small tightening of Nolan’s jaw and felt himself back off a bit. What was it now? It felt similar to figuring out Damian’s damn riddles and being backed in the corner where it felt like he shouldn’t ask what was wrong especially in a public setting. Alright, he’ll play this game.
His smile was tight, raising an eyebrow as he pretended to think long and hard about his answer. So many things seemed off limits now that it was almost hard to choose two. “Go gambling or face a fear.”
He forced a smile as the waitress stopped by with their meals and took a long sip of his coffee. Why was it so hard to be fucking honest all a sudden? It was his kiss that started it all, he knew that. If only Nolan agreed to forget it and let it go then they wouldn’t be tiptoeing around their relationship. It just seemed... like Nolan put up a barrier with Patrick’s subtle flirtatious outings or comments.
He glanced at his phone but didn’t pick it up. Now was not the fucking time.
Nolan knew he needed to snap out of this little trip down depression lane, and fast. It wasn't fair to Patrick and it wasn't fair to him. He could ruminate on everything that had happened later when he was alone and could face the demons on his past colliding with his present. So he met Patrick's gaze- of tried to under all that hair- and gave a genuine smirk at the options he was given. It was like a beam of sunshine coming through the rain, not quite a full smile. But he was approaching sunny.
He drummed his fingers on his mug and thought. Gambling was easy around here. Facing a fear was harder. And he didn't even know what it would be. He thought about the previous night. How that was a fear he hadn't quite mastered. He felt like he'd failed somehow. Maybe he just needed to try again with something new. Maybe it would get his conifence back up. Right. Confidence.
“Let's face a fear," he said, finally taking a bite of his food.
Patrick was surprised that Nolan chose ‘face a fear’ and the unknown possibilities intrigued him. He put down his fork, finishing the pancake in his mouth before cautiously asking, “And what would that fear be?”
His mind went active on possibilities. Admitting a bad depression, admitting a love, fear of heights, fear of intimacy? And then Patrick realized that the answer could be more innocent than that and perhaps it was a fear of talking to his niece or some shit. The young man tried not to get his hopes up yearning for something that would make him feel relevant or of help. He wasn’t sure how he’d feel being dismissed again after last night.
He smiled reassuringly just in case. “It can be anything really. Even the smallest thing.”
Patrick asked for a fear and Nolan made it clear he was thinking as he chewed. He wasn’t sure how to steer this. He could name several things, all ranging from silly to devastating. He knew the former would be easier, but would that be keeping in spirit with Patrick’s challenge? Besides, he felt like he had to make up somehow for the night before. And for some reason that involved continuing to be open and vulnerable. Still, what could he choose?
He surprised himself by saying with conviction, “An unknown number has been callin’ me for weeks. They never leave a message. I think ‘cause they’re scared, too. In their own way. Next time they call, I want to answer it.” He nodded, as if only just hearing himself and then agreeing. “But I don’t think I can answer it when I’m alone. So I’ll only do it if I’m with you or Charlotte.” He thought about that a moment.
“I supposed since that could take a while, I could choose another fear in the meantime.” He swirled his syrup on his plate, then stopped when his fork make an awful scraping noise. “I, uh. I hate ferris wheels. They scare the shit outta me. I don’t trust ‘em even though I know there’s nothing to be afraid of. So we could go to the high roller. Cause if I’m gonna scare myself, might as well go all out,” he said with a smirk. “And I’ll get to see more of the city, which is what this all started out as anyway, right?”
The pause stretched and Patrick had to busy himself with finishing his breakfast instead of staring at Nolan’s face. If he could, he would probably stare at that face all day wondering what was behind those eyes and never learning a damn thing. That was the problem with having a boyfriend. That was the problem when his phone buzzed.
Then Nolan began, explaining about a mysterious phone call and Patrick was reminded of a previous night in this diner. The look on Nolan’s face had distracted him that night from their conversation. It must have been one and the same. The other note that struck him was that Nolan deemed him trustworthy enough to be on the same level as Charlotte... and he felt sick again.
“I supposed since that could take a while, I could choose another fear in the meantime,” Nolan said as Patrick put down his fork. Nolan continued to suggest a ferris wheel and not just any small-time carnival one, but the High Roller in Las Vegas.
Patrick chuckled at the bravery the country boy was suddenly displaying. That wheel was huge, so big in fact, that it took about thirty minutes to see the view. Though the more he thought about it, the more he wondered why it hadn’t been on his own bucket list to begin with. “Never been there,” he admitted. “Way to take it all in. I’m sure at night it’s a fantastic view.”
He pushed back a few locks of hair. “Never been afraid of heights either but we’ll see if I feel differently after. You know... just tell me when I guess.” He didn’t have plans today but it also didn’t feel right rushing in. He hated that things felt so awkward.
Patrick didn’t give much response to his first fear, so he was glad he gave a second option. Perhaps he had been too vulnerable again. Or Patrick simply didn’t want to pry. Either way, he was glad he seemed receptive to the ferris wheel idea.
Nolan was a little surprised Patrick had never been on the thing himself, but then again he did strike him as the kind to prefer hole in the wall attractions over sitting in a gigantic ferris wheel with nothing to do for half an hour.
Nolan shrugged. “I’d hate to waste an entire day I took off work to hang out,” he admitted. And he found it was true. As awkward as things were, he still found himself wanting to spend time with Patrick. Things could be patched up with enough time and if he didn’t try now, he’d just have to try later. And he didn’t think he’d be able to focus on much with that weight floating around in his mind.
But just soon as the thought left his mind, Nolan remedied the tension with a simple comment and he was grateful. He nodded and finished his coffee before gesturing to the waitress for the check. “Let’s get out of here. I wanna take a quick shower and get a change of clothes before we hit the big city.”
They paid their bill and were back in the truck on the way to the corner Patrick claimed as a drop off point. He finally checked his phone to see Damien’s texts in short posts. Patrick glanced out the window as he lowered the device, wondering how everything got so fucked when people like Nolan existed. His kindness, attentive nature. Somewhere that was lost in his own relationship and he wasn’t sure what it would be like to drop everything he knew for a gamble.
That’s what Nolan was. A gamble. Despite how sincere he spoke.
They reached the corner and Patrick patted Nolan’s arm. “I’ll text you when I’m ready. Give me an hour and we can go for a drive or somethin’. Feel free to give me a buzz though if your mysterious caller taps in.” A signature wink and he was out on the sidewalk.
The door was dark again, keeping him standing outside it a few minutes longer then he should have but... this was his home too. When he stepped inside, Patrick was relieved to find it empty and face palmed when he remembered where Damien was this time of day. Campus. It’s the middle of the week. He hurried and stripped off his clothes, jumping into a hot shower washing the dirt from last night off his face.
He had just finished snapping in his earrings when he heard the front door close and his heart stopped. In seconds Damien was in the bathroom doorway, the fluorescent lights deepening the shadows around his eyes. Those eyes observed him. “Date?”
Damien shook his head. “No, Janice doesn’t get you dressed up like that. Who is he?”
“There’s no one.”
Patrick’s back met the wall, Damien pressing in. “Don’t you fucking lie to me. It has to be a man. I’ve never seen you hang out with a person this much more so than that loser Steven.”
He wanted to so desperately ‘blink’ through this but he was reminded of last night and those eyes that peered back at him through the dark. ‘You shouldn’t have to be ‘blinking’ at all.’ Patrick reached into his back pocket remembering he’d left his cell on the dresser. Damien’s fingers pressed harder into his arms, his patience growing thin.
“Yeah, okay but you’ve said we’re in an open relationship,” he countered, never breaking eye contact. “I know you’re seeing someone.” He suspected Damien was and felt a sort of relief when those eyes softened.
“Stay with me,” the blonde muttered, moving his hands to Patrick’s forearms.
He hesitated, his tongue heavy again. “I can’t.”
“You can’t or you won’t?”
It was like thinking and talking underwater. It was hard for him to say ‘no’ to Damien. It always had been since he was eight. He found himself thinking of Nolan again but couldn’t bring himself to end any of this. Did that make him a coward or that somewhere in his mind he still loved the fourteen year old boy Damien used to be?
“I won’t be joining you tonight or... maybe even this week.” Patrick pushed back against Damien gently as the other pressed into the sensitive area around his wrists before finally letting go.
“You know one day you’re gonna cut too deep and no one’s going to find you or your pathetic existence. I’ve always been there for you Pat but go ahead. Go fuck someone else for a change so you can fucking realize that they can’t give you what I can. And you’re right. I am seeing someone else and so far, he’s more dependable than you.” Those eyes turned away but Patrick only took a breath when he heard the door slam.
Patrick lost track of time standing in that bathroom, realizing that he was nearly forty minutes late in texting Nolan. He simply texted “ready” as he grabbed his jacket from the floor and hooked his thumbs into the sleeves he cut holes in years ago.
The weather did not mirror his mood at all. He stared grudgingly at the sun before trying his best to think about the night ahead instead. He’ll have a couple of drinks once they reach Las Vegas, gamble a bit and then hit up the Wheel. He’ll feel better then. For now, Patrick lit up a cigarette as he waited at the corner.
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